Roosevelt legend Ron Heflin holds court in Q&A
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or email@example.com January 17, 2013 5:54PM
Longtime basketball legend Ron Heflin is photographed on the gym floor that will be named in his honor at Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy in Gary, Ind. Wednesday January 16, 2013. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: February 19, 2013 3:16PM
Tonight, Roosevelt will rename the Panthers’ gym floor in honor of Ron Heflin.
Hef, as they call him, retired in 1997 after 21 seasons as the Roosevelt coach. Heflin finished 345-116 at Roosevelt, winning 10 sectionals, five regionals, three semistates and a state championship with Glenn Robinson in 1991. He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
A lot has changed at Roosevelt since Heflin left in 1997. Enrollment, which was more than 1,300 when he retired, has dwindled to around 600 students. Because of a flagging performance, the school was taken over by the state. It is no longer part of the Gary Community School system. The city, staggered by a reeling economy and reeling from a financial crisis, is still standing, but barely.
The Panthers have a new coach, Renaldo Thomas, a 1982 Roosevelt graduate who played on the Panthers team that lost to Plymouth in the Final Four in Indianapolis. He is the third coach Roosevelt has had since Heflin left. The Panthers, with just one win, are struggling under the weight of trying to build a program virtually from scratch.
The indomitable, good natured and universally revered Hef, his voice still scratchy from a bout with throat cancer that he beat more than a decade ago, makes everyone feel better no matter how cold it is outside and no matter how great the odds.
With no further ado, here is a conversation I had with Hef last week about everything.
Were you surprised at getting the floor named after you?
I’ve been asked that many times. Some people from Indianapolis asked why it took so long. I don’t worry about that. I tell you, it’s an honor, especially with the history that Roosevelt has, for them to put your signature on the floor.
When did you hear about it?
A couple of weeks ago I heard some rumblings about it. Renaldo said it should’ve been done 10 or 12 years ago. Sometimes, we’re a little slow on the draw in Gary. I’m appreciative of it.
What are your thoughts on the state taking over Roosevelt?
It turned so fast, they had to do something. I’m fascinated with Mr. Little (Principal Terrance Little). They really have to grab a hold of it. If anybody can improve it, he can. The test scores were so low they had to try something. That school has so much history you can’t let it go. A lot of great people have graced the hallways at Roosevelt. Any time someone can come along and try to improve something, you have to give them a shot.
How will Renaldo Thomas do as the Panthers’ coach?
Renaldo is not used to losing. Building a program is like trying to raise the dead — it takes time. Look at what he did at Lew Wallace. He took them further than anyone else did (they lost in the state championship game in 2010). He is very aggressive and very knowledgeable. He and I talk all the time. He does need to calm down a bit.
What do you think about the quality of basketball in Gary?
It’s nothing like it used to be. It’s going to take some work to bring it back. I talk to (Bowman coach) Marvin (Rea) and Renaldo and tell them that the only thing they can do is keep working on it.
You invented a device called the “Octopus” to help kids with their shooting form. What are your thoughts on shooting today in high school?
(Heflin references Lew Wallace graduate Branden Dawson, now with Michigan State, when he answers). He has got to shoot the ball better. One of his major problems is that he does not shoot the ball well. He does not shoot well from the free-throw line and the floor on a consistent basis. This has been going on in the game for 20 years. You have to be able to put the ball in the hole. Look at the Bears. Lovie Smith lost his job because he only addressed one side of the ball. The offense was always ragged. That is why he lost his job. He never addressed it. It’s the same way in basketball. People just won’t address offense. They won’t address the mid-range jump shot or the long-range shots. Unless BJ (Dawson) improves his offense, he won’t play in the NBA. He’ll play in Europe. Basketball is a game of skill and will. Defense is will and offense is skill. It’s more difficult to learn offense but it’s just as important.
How are you feeling?
My back hurts a bit. I go out to breakfast with friends once a month and we all complain about the same aches and pains. You know what? The same dog that bites at me is going to bite at you someday. I need to gain some weight and my energy comes and goes but my spirits are high.